R.I.P. The Black Cap - Thank you George Antony

Sunday 12th April 2015, the iconic Black Cap closed its doors for the last time. Social media has been awash with opinions and theories but as someone who has performed, promoted, directed and DJed there over the past eighteen months, here's an insiders view.

The Black Cap eighteen months ago was a very different place. Numbers were down, it hadn't been turning a profit for years, the manager was caught with his fingers in the till and it was starting to be seen as a bit naff. But assistant manager George Antony saw potential in the old girl and gave her the boost and revamp she deserved. With an enthusiastic knowledge of past and present scenes, he brought in new promoters, DJs, performers and in those past eighteen months, the Cap exceeded its targets and reclaimed it's reputation as a destination for a wide variety of fantastic queer club and cabaret nights. 
But she desperately needed a new frock. The toilets were a mess, the sound system and tech was a source of constant frustration, the dressing room was a dump. The only way for to raise capital for said frock was to redevelop. Plans were designed to destroy the first floor Shufflewick Bar and Regina Fong beer garden to become flats. The ground floor would have been widened and restored to how it was over 20 years ago (when both the bar and club were on the ground floor) and given an entire revamp. The money from the proposed flats would have been enough to secure the loan needed for the makeover.
There were previous planning proposals put forward to build flats on it's sacred ground and I wrote to the council protesting it myself but this was a completely different situation. The venue needed to regenerate to survive at all.
Well meaning but ill informed academics and armchair activists who hadn't done their homework decided no, no, no. How dare they squash yet another LGBT venue? Usually I'd wholeheartedly agree as but this was an all or nothing situation. Redevelop or no Cap. Strong hints were given but ignored. Planning permission denied. It's over. She's gone. Sold. R.I.P. The Black Cap and over 50 years of LGBT and queer heritage.

I've known about this for a while but out of respect for the staff and people whose livelihood depended on working there, I kept my mouth shut. The company that owned the venue, Faucet Inn Limited have done a hideous job with this. They didn't make any public statements until today's official closing announcement. They've kept their lips firmly shut during procedures, not attended planning permission meetings or engaged with those concerned about it's future. This could have been avoided if they'd opened the channels of communication with those who work at, attend and love the place or publicly told people that if she were to get permission to be restored to her former glory she would have survived. Albeit with sound proofed flats above, something that worked for one of their other venues, Comptons.

The old girl's gone but had a cracking send off with the final weekend featuring Myra Dubois night Naff on Friday, my queer disco night POP! on Saturday and Sunday's final event being the ReResurrection hosted by Virgin Xtravaganzah.
The final show was incredible with every performer bringing their A game. It was an honor to be asked to join the lineup and sang something I thought fitting and a nod to London's queer heritage; Soft Cell's Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. It was hard to get through without breaking down as the whole place has become more than a disco, but an incredible family.
As a respectful nod to 50 years of glorious drag heritage, legend of The Black Cap stage, Mrs Moore was invited to close the show, belting out 'I Am, What I Am'. All performers took to the stage to sing Happy Birthday to George, we had a big cry and group hug and a final dance of the bar to Like A Prayer.

To those bitching they weren't asked to perform one last time, this wasn't about you. The night had to go ahead as programmed with only a few knowing the situation (out of respect for the staff and their futures). Mrs Moore respectfully and fantastically represented the heritage of the Cap, so shush.
To the armchair activists who should have read the planning proposals properly, meh.
To Faucet Inn, fuck you.
To gentrification and sanitisation of the LGBT scene and London in general, a massive go fuck yourself.

Black Cap legend HIH Regina Fong (do your homework kids) has haunted the venue for years. The times I've felt her presence was never more clear than over the weekend, she's fucking livid. Whatever generic glass fronted gentrified piece of shit it becomes, I hope she curses your genitals.

To close, there are so many wonderful people to thank in the creative and financial success of The Cap over the past eighteen months but there's one who worked selflessly, enthusiastically and often without sleep. He paid for missing stock from of his own wallet, worked the door, behind the bar, booking events, attending to social media, encouraging new talent, sorting tech, placating stroppy drag queens (cough) and genuinely gave a shit about the very bones and future of the venue and not his ego. George Antony.
She would have faded away without you. You made sure she went out with a fucking bang.
George, thank you. 


P.S. For those asking why I didn't release this information sooner, I didn't out of respect for the staff and their futures. They have moved and been given jobs within Faucet Inn. I would suggest going to say hello to them but that would be supporting an underhand and deceitful company, so don't.

P.P.S. Sorry if I've offended anyone other than Faucet Inn.


    Julie BRILLIANT - you ALWAYS shoot from the hip - can't begin to imagine how you are feeling right now and the emotion of the final night. NEVER EVER STOP
    Earlier today ( 13th April ) I was being interviewed to camera by Aro Korol for a documentary 'The Battle of Soho' and mentioned the real threat to many venues London wide including The Black Cap - Aro then dropped the bombshell - It closed last week - I had no idea and broke down.
    We know the battle to save the future of this unique historic venue has been prolonged & fierce, Spike Rhodes I know sacrificed so much - you and others that fought so valiantly - the loyal customers are all heroes.
    I can't begin to imagine how the last night and last minute warning must have been for Holestar - the customers AND the staff.
    I feel so fcuking angry I am raging, but will NOT roll over and give up - EVER.
    The threat to ALL our London social venues is REAL - Owning the lease means nothing.
    On Saturday I was on a River Thames boat party, and shared with the organiser: 'Soon the only option to party will be on this river'
    Sending you all a virtual hug.

  2. what a really intense and informative blog, i love your courage strength and committment to always speak the truth and serve realness in words actions and opinion.. love you holestar.... xxxx cunty

  3. An “armchair activist” responds (part one of three)

    Thank you for sharing your experience of how this terrible situation unfolded. This is a heartbreaking time for all who loved and valued the Black Cap – perhaps above all for you, George, Meth and all the rest of the Familyyy and venue staff who put such passion and dedication into turning it into such a dynamic and vital part of London's queer landscape over the past 18 months. It is, simply, a tragedy.
    I have huge respect for you as artists and performers and community-makers, and what has happened to the venue you brought roaring back to life is a travesty. I wish I’d made it along to more of the events there than I did, and I feel nothing but sadness and anger for your loss and the loss to all of us who care about queer and alternative London culture and community.
    But I’m also saddened to see you choosing this moment to point some of the blame for this situation in what I believe to be a misguided, counterproductive, even dangerous direction.
    The last thing any of us want to do now is enter into an argument. B ut as one of the supposedly "ill informed academics and armchair activists" you've chosen to accuse publicly of contributing to the closure of the Cap by opposing the company’s recent planning proposals, I don't feel I have any choice but to defend my actions.
    Not because I'm offended – though of course it stings – but because I think your accusations play into the hands of companies like Faucet who promote silence and misinformation in the hope of creating suspicion and blame between people who are basically on the same side. It’s classic divide-and-conquer stuff – and this time it looks like it’s worked.
    Well, to quote the Virgin Extravaganzah, sorry not sorry.
    I’m proud of standing up to Faucet when I did, and nothing I’ve seen or heard since has given me any reason to change my mind. And I’m proud of the company I was in when I did it.
    “Armchair activists”? You mean the one who creates restorative-justice projects and fosters at-risk queer teenagers? The one who works full-time promoting the welfare of Camden’s LGBT community? The ones who took on extra responsibilities on top of their oh-so-lucrative day jobs in town planning and cabaret journalism to pore through pages of planning materials and use their professional expertise to defend an institution they cherish?
    In fact, the plans you hail as a lifeline would have meant the death of the Black Cap, as Camden Council itself recognised.
    For a start, the destruction of the Shufflewick bar and Regina Fong terrace, which you gloss over in a sentence, would have been a huge loss to many members of the north London LGBT community who don’t necessarily share our passion for daring, provocative drag performance events but simply value a nice, safe place to have a drink and a chat of an evening.
    [continued in part two]

  4. An “armchair activist” responds (part two of three)

    More crucially, the plans didn’t even hold water on their own terms. The council's expert assessment of the proposed soundproofing concluded that it was inadequate to protect a first-floor flat from the noise of a packed bar. What worked at Comptons – a regular pub that closes by midnight – would not have worked for a late-night dance and performance venue.
    Tenants on the first floor would have been justified in complaining about the noise and the council would have found it hard not to revoke the Cap's late-night license or shut it altogether, as has happened elsewhere.
    Perhaps the Cap would still be there today if the plan had gone through, but the chances of it still being there in a year or two? Not good.
    We took this very seriously as a threat to the Cap's continued existence and acted in good faith to defend it. It was a bad scheme and arguing against it was the right thing to do. We looked very closely at the plans and if we missed something that would have changed our assessment, I wish you would tell us what.
    In fact, I wish you – or indeed anyone – would have told us at the time. Beyond the problems with the proposal itself stands the fact that, despite all of the above objections being made repeatedly and publicly before the planning decision was made, no one from the company or the venue came forward to defend the plan.
    You say that "out of respect for the staff and people whose livelihood depended on working there, I kept my mouth shut". But what objection could the company have had to influential community figures like yourself speaking out in support of their plans?
    As for "strong hints" and "doing homework", I personally made repeated attempts at meaningful dialogue with both the company and performers at the venue, including yourself, but to no avail. Faucet never returned my calls or emails, and performers told me only that contractual obligations meant they had to stay silent, or asked me to wait for an official statement that never came.
    How can you avoid “ignorance” when none of the people with inside knowledge will share their information?
    Well, in the absence of such communication, you look at the company’s track record. You yourself acknowledge that Faucet had an abysmal history of pursuing exploitative planning schemes, which you personally objected to in the past. On the face of it, this one was even worse. If the situation really was so different – if it was “all or nothing”, if the only way for a successful pub operator to renovate one of its venues was by converting half of it into flats and jeopardising the other half's continued existence – then surely someone should have bothered to explain how this added up?
    Instead, you seem to be suggesting that the best course of action would have been to ignore all of the above and simply give the benefit of the doubt to Faucet Inn, which you call "an underhand and deceitful company", and assume, in the face of all the evidence, that it had the best interests of the Cap and its community at heart.
    I’m sorry, but it just doesn't make sense – and it makes even less sense now that we know the Black Cap’s freeholder had agreed to sell it off from beneath your feet months before that planning hearing even happened.
    [concluded in part three]

  5. An “armchair activist” responds (part three of three)

    It’s time to wake up and smell the Kool-Aid. You got played.
    You got bullshitted and bullied into silence by a ruthless, heartless company that never gave a shit about the venue or the community you love, even while you were creating a beautiful world of creativity, passion, love and respect beneath its roof.
    They forbade you from speaking out and threatened your livelihoods. They persuaded you they had to sell off half the venue to fix the toilets and the wiring. They submitted their miracle plan to the council without telling you, let alone seeking your input, and then convinced you that those of us pointing out its glaring flaws were the problem. Now they’ve finally stabbed you in the back and we’re all suffering from their callous greed.
    The only glimmer of hope in this whole shitty situation is the fact that last week the Black Cap was granted asset of community value or ACV status on the basis of its importance as an LGBT community hub and performance space.
    Who made that happen? The armchair activists.
    ACV status means that whoever owns the Cap now still has to make sure it functions as an LGBT community hub and performance space, unless they can convince the council to give them a pass. But the council are big fans of the Cap, not least because some people took the time to go and sing its praises to the planning committee in February.
    Who were they? The armchair activists.
    Let me be clear: I want to defend myself but this is not an attack on you. That would be giving in to the divide-and-conquer mentality that is the enemy of the ideals that I still believe we share. The only thing I’m accusing you of is giving too much credence to a company that didn’t deserve your respect – although I don’t question the good intentions that led you to do so.
    What you all accomplished at the Black Cap was a wondrous thing.
    It changed people’s lives and will be cherished in their hearts forever. Its power will long outlast the building it called home. Even so, it remains a tragedy and a travesty that it was cut short in its prime, and that a place that has been at the heart of queer London for half a century was subjected to such an ignominious end.
    To push such an icon into the dark without fanfare brings immeasurable shame on the heads of the corporate interests that made it so. To make of those heartbreaking circumstances a night of such fierce, burning art, love, communion and defiance as all of you did on Sunday brings no less honour on yours.
    I feel a bit ridiculous going on at such length about this – it’s only one of the many things you mention in your intensely moving piece – but I feel it is crucially important.
    In the big picture, I have always thought and still think of us as allies. If we want to defend the spaces that mean so much to us – if we want to do what we can to stop the flame of the Black Cap going out instead of just rolling over and taking it – if we want to rally behind the ever-smaller number of places we can call home before it’s too late – then we have to communicate.
    And we have to be on the same side.

  6. Thank you for this eloquent and passionate post, Ben. It is right and important that the blame for what has happened is laid at the door of those who have no interest in our community beyond economic ones.
    As one of your companion activists, I believe that we were right to defend the Cap as a vital space for ALL members of our community, including those of us who may spend more time upstairs than downstairs nowadays.
    Let us unite our ire and our energies against those who have absolutely no respect for us. Let us now use those energies to work to save this space. I hold on to hope that the fat lady has not yet sung (but then I wasn't there on Sunday night) and that this may yet come good for us. Let us unite in doing what we each can, in our own differing ways, to save the Black Cap.

  7. Anonymous11:51 am

    This issue needs exposure. Anyone know some celebrities?

  8. Anonymous8:42 pm

    An ACV does not mean Faucet have to keep it open or even as an LGBT venue, it simply means that if they sell the pub it has to give the local community a first option in buying it within a certain timeframe, if they cannot raise the money they can sell to whoever they want.....being realistic Faucet or and the umbrella property side of the company paid Mitchells & Butler far too much for the site for it to ever make money, just the same why Faucet had to ruin Comptons by building flats and selling them off to recoup some of the money spent, and the reason they are trying to do the same to other local pubs they bought from M&B. I for one would love to see the old girl reopen, but as the original poster here stated, the site is in one hell of a state and will/would need mega bucks spent on it to bring standards up...realistically this will not happen and I cannot see her reopening.